A while back I did a series of posts (here, here, and here) essentially saying knowledge of Chinese culture is secondary to knowledge of business.  In drawing this conclusion, I was thinking much more in terms of negotiating a deal than in marketing a consumer product.

In marketing a consumer product, knowing the culture can and usually is of crucial importance and it seems some Western companies are forgetting this in marketing their products in China.  KFC is the latest to fall victim to a cultural faux pas in its marketing.  This article in the Independent (London), entitled, “KFC faces backlash in China over chickenburger advert,”[link no longer exists] discusses how KFC offended many in China by using a Taoist monk in this television commercial to proclaim that a KFC chickenburger to be a “masterpiece.”   Problem is that many Chinese are offended by the use of this commercialized “monk,” both because he resembles a monk and becuase he resembles Fu Qingzhu, who helped defend China against invaders in the early 17th century.  Another problem is that most Taoists are vegetarians.

The article goes on to quote Zhao Shu, vice-chairman of the Chinese Folk Literature and Art Society, as saying that “whenever companies enter foreign markets, they must never forget one principle: ‘to respect the target customer’s cultural traditions.'”  This does make for good business.

The Useless Tree blog, which is subtitled, Ancient Chinese thought in Modern American life, did an excellent post on this issue, stating that the whole thing is being blown out of proportion as we are “too far down the reform-and-opening road to return to some notion that culture is off limits to advertising.”  I agree that culture is not off limits to advertising, yet at the same time, since advertising is meant to bring in customers, not repel them, good advertising is cognizant of cultural sensibilities.  Good business demands this. China culture matters.

For those wanting to know more about advertising and marketing in China, I recommend the veritable Danwei and the Chinese Word of Mouth Blog.

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Dan Harris

I am a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

I mostly represent companies doing business in emerging market countries. It has taken me many years to build my network and it takes constant communication and travel to maintain it. My work has been as varied as securing the release of two improperly held helicopters in Papua New Guinea, setting up a legal framework to move slag from Canada to Poland’s interior, overseeing hundreds of litigation and arbitration matters in Korea, helping someone avoid terrorism charges in Japan, and seizing fish product in China to collect on a debt.

I was named as one of only three Washington State Amazing Lawyers in International Law, I am AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory (its highest rating), I am rated 10.0 by AVVO.com (its highest rating), and I am a SuperLawyer.

I am a frequent writer and public speaker on doing business in Asia and I constantly travel between the United States and Asia. I most commonly speak on China law issues and I am the lead writer of the award winning China Law Blog (www.chinalawblog.com). Forbes Magazine, Fortune Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Business Week, The National Law Journal, The Washington Post, The ABA Journal, The Economist, Newsweek, NPR, The New York Times and Inside Counsel have all interviewed me regarding various aspects of my international law practice.

I am licensed in Washington, Illinois, and Alaska.

In tandem with the international law team at my firm, I focus on setting up/registering companies overseas (via WFOEs, Rep Offices or Joint Ventures), drafting international contracts (NDAs, OEM Agreements, licensing, distribution, etc.), protecting IP (trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights and patents), and overseeing M&A transactions.